Police jury supports broadband initiative

Published 2:27 pm Tuesday, November 23, 2021

VIDALIA — On Monday, Concordia Parish leaders agreed unanimously to sign a letter of support making them eligible to receive grant funds as part Louisiana’s initiative to provide affordable broadband internet services to rural, underserved communities.

Concordia Parish Police Jury secretary and treasurer Sandi Burley said the parish could benefit from two different grant programs to provide fast, reliable internet service to parish residents.

By signing the letter of support Monday, the jury agrees to begin the process of identifying which areas can be covered by the GUMBO grant program, which stands for the “Granting Underserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities.”

According to connect.la.gov, this program is set up to decide how Louisiana will spend more than $180 million in federal funds set aside in order to provide broadband and internet access to 400,000 households statewide.

Burley said the areas that cannot be served by the GUMBO grant may qualify for the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, or RDOF, which has more than $20 billion Universal Service Fund dollars allocated by the federal government to support broadband construction efforts across the country.

It is estimated that between 400,000 to 500,000 households in the State of Louisiana do not have broadband access. Last month, Louisiana was allocated $342 million by the Federal Communications Commission and another $177 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to address the issue.

To front this initiative, the Office of Broadband Development & Connectivity, housed in the Louisiana Division of Administration, was established to coordinate federal, state and municipal efforts and execute tactics to “close the digital divide” between Louisiana and other states by the year 2029, according to the organization’s website, connect.la.gov.

Burley said the letter of support would allow the parish to participate in a study showing which areas can benefit from the grant and determine their matching costs, which would come out of the $3.74 million allocated to the parish through the American Rescue Plan Act.

“We don’t know yet how much it is going to cost,” Burley said Monday. “We’re just in the letter of support phase of it.”

Police jury president Joseph Parker announced that he is strongly supportive of the project.

“We have many areas in the parish that do not have access to fast reliable internet. It has been a problem for our residents for many years,” he said. “I am happy to support this grant.”

In other matters during Monday’s meeting, the police jury approved writing a $250 check to the Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office, which covers half of the cost for a sheriff’s deputy to attend an upcoming animal cruelty conference. Officials also discussed the need for a full-time animal control officer in the parish, which they do not have.

“The reason we haven’t had one in the past is because the worker’s compensation side of having that position is ginormous because of all the risk involved,” Burley said.

Burley said the conference allows the deputy to receive training so that the parish would not be held liable for animal cruelty allegations when responding to animal calls.

The jury also approved the purchase of wetland credits for $63,900 needed to finish out the Phase 1 of the $4.5 million Brushy Bayou project, which aims to alleviate flooding in the northern part of the parish.

The project cost is funded by a grant from FEMA the parish was awarded in 2017.

Burley said the $63,900 to purchase the credits were within the budget of the project.